In an attempt to protect her son, Thetis takes Achilles to the island of Skyros where he is disguised as one of Princess Deidamia's handmaidens. In this speech, Thetis convinces Achilles to dress as a maiden, and uses important precedents from mythology about gender and dress in her argument:
"Cedamus, paulumque animos submitte viriles
atque habitus dignare meos. Si Lydia dura 260
pensa manu mollesque tulit Tirynthius hastas,
si decet aurata Bacchum vestigia palla
verrere, virgineos si Juppiter induit artus,
nec magnum ambigui fregerunt Caenea sexus:
hac sine, quaeso, minas nubemque exire malignam. 265
mox iterum campos, iterum Centaurica reddam
lustra tibi: per ego hoc decus et ventura iuventae
gaudia, si terras humilemque experta maritum
te propter, si progenitum Stygos amne severo
armavi—totumque utinam!—, cape tuta parumper 270
tegmina nil nocitura animo. cur ora reducis
quidve parant oculi? pudet hoc mitescere cultu?
per te, care puer, cognata per aequora iuro,
nesciet hoc Chiron."
--Statius, Achilleid I.259 - 274
Let’s take a short break.
Lay aside your masculine traits for a bit,
And consider wearing my outfit.
If Hercules* could weave wool with his own calloused hands,
And pick up a distaff instead of a spear,
If it’s proper for Bacchus to swish on by with a golden cloak trailing behind him,
If Jupiter can wear a woman’s form**,
If his transformed body didn’t diminish mighty Caeneus,***
Then spare me your tantrum, I beg you!
Soon I’ll take you back to your tutor Chiron,
I swear it by the honors and delights of your future adulthood.
Since I had to endure this earthly existence and a mortal husband
Since I have fortified your body in the Stygian stream****,
[I wish I could have dipped all of you!],
Please, take these clothes meant to protect you,
Wear them a little while,
Knowing they will not diminish your character.
Why are you hiding your face?
Why are you on the verge of tears?
Do you think that this dress will diminish your manhood?
Sweet child, I swear to you—on you whom I birthed and on the sea that birthed me—Chiron will never find out about this.”
*: This is a reference to Hercules' year of service to the Amazon Queen Omphale
**: This is a reference to Jupiter's attack on Callisto
***: Literally "fregerunt," a pun on Caeneus' impenetrable skin
****: According to mythology, Thetis dipped the infant Achilles into the River Styx. This made his skin impenetrable except for the place where she held him, his ankle.
Name: Publius Papinius Statius
Date: 45 – 96 CE
One of the most influential epic poets of the Silver Age, Statius spent most of his life in Naples, Italy. His most famous work, the Thebaid, is an epic poem that describes the civil war between the descendants of Oedipus; he also wrote the Achilleid, a short epic on the boyhood of Achilles.
SILVER AGE LATIN
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